2. Looking for new friends
BSSB.BE ecfr.eu 31.08.2018
* Portugal has at times punched above its weight in modern EU history. But it needs new friends if it is to do so again
Portugal has also traditionally been a staunch supporter of NATO, being located at its southern flank. Because of this it was initially hesitant to join the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiative of EU member states in 2017. Security is perhaps another area in which interests between Lisbon and London converge, and these areas explain why in this time of great uncertainty over the UK’s departure from the EU, Lisbon is increasingly reaching out to London.
After Spain, France, and Germany, the UK is the fourth most contacted country for Portugal (though numbers are overall significantly lower). Portuguese respondents also see a level of shared interests with the UK that matches their responses about shared interests with Berlin. However, this interest from Lisbon in things British is not reciprocal. Portugal sees the UK to a certain degree as responsive to its outreach, but ECFR’s data suggests that, from Lisbon’s perspective, London could be a more dynamic partner.
When it comes to Portuguese priorities regarding EU policies in the next five years, respondents from Portugal give highest priority to ‘Eurozone governance and a single fiscal policy’.
- Again, there is a great deal of convergence with respondents from Spain, and both countries see each other as important partners in this area. Respondents from France, Germany, and Italy also view eurozone governance as very important.
- However, when it comes to finding partners to advance a joint agenda with, Portugal is not a top choice for these countries. Size certainly matters here, but Portugal could be more ambitious in playing a bigger role among the “big four” eurozone members, in particular since three of them (except Germany) generally have it on their radar screen.
Portugal could, for example, build on its past legacy of sorting out fundamental issues of European integration and help advance a eurozone reform file. Lisbon will, perhaps, find it easier to trigger interest in Paris than in Berlin.
For this reason, Portugal should seek to increase its clout in Germany, the other key country when it comes to shaping the eurozone reform agenda. There is an opportunity to strengthen ties with Berlin is very practical terms, as Portugal will be taking over the EU Presidency from Germany in the first half of 2021. Preparations in Berlin for the 2020 presidency are already under way.
Portugal could build on its past legacy and help advance a eurozone reform file
The changing transatlantic context further suggests that stronger engagement with Berlin on European security might be a way to capture its interest. At the moment, there is an interest in Berlin in both strengthening the European pillar within NATO and getting PESCO in the EU framework off the ground.
Portugal was initially rather hesitant to endorse PESCO, precisely because of its strong NATO affiliation, but eventually decided to join in to avoid falling behind in an important future area of EU cooperation.
The country would certainly be well advised to stay within the hard core of European integration to counter its peripheral geography.
There is another angle to Portuguese foreign policy that might interest Berlin: Lisbon’s ties to London. Portugal could present itself as a country bridging the widening gap between the UK and the EU once Brexit becomes a reality, in particular on issues of European security.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: ecfr.eu